England's Medieval Festival - Visitors Info - History - Crimes and Punishments
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Medieval Festival
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Medieval Crimes and Punishment

Amputation The removal of a body part, the exact one to be determined by the judge. Usually it had something to do with the crime, e.g. a thief lost their hand, or a Peeping Tom might have lost an eye. However this was not always the case and any body part could be removed, e.g. testicles, breasts, tongues or ears. However we must note that amputation was such a common punishment that people who had accidentally lost body parts would carry certified notes to assure people that they were not criminals.

Beheading This is a commonly known punishment reserved for capital crimes. A person's head was severed with an ax or sword and usually placed on a pike and put on public display for a period of time. What is not widely known about this punishment, is that sometimes only a certain amount of strokes were allowed the complete the deed; if the person survived they were set free, but it often resulted in a long and painful death.

Boiling and Burning A criminal was placed in a large cauldron and literally boiled alive. But a more common punishment used for witches, heresy, treason, rape and abduction was being burned at the stake.

Hanging This was also a very common form of punishment, but sometimes afterwards, while still alive, the person was drawn, (disemboweled) and quartered, (cut into four pieces) and buried in four different parts of the town; and so named, 'Hung, drawn, and quartered.'

Flagellation or Flogging This was a punishment used to induce confession from a person. Whips were sometimes laced with steel spikes or shards of glass.

Garroting The convicted person was strangled with a cord by the executioner.

Hamstringing The involved convicted person's hamstrings being cut, thus crippling them. It was used for robbery and prostitution, or as a means of compelling testimony.

Impaling This was performed with either a red-hot poker or a large stake being thrust through the rectum, sometimes coming out the criminal's mouth. It was customary to leave them on public display.

Ordeals By cold water: The accused was bound hand and foot, then a rope was attached to their midriff and they were lowered into the water. If they floated they were judged guilty, if they sank they were judged innocent.

By boiling water: The accused was ordered to pray and fast for three days. They then took part in mass, with a priest present, for minor offences they accused had to immerse his hand up to his wrist, sometimes to also retrieve a stone or ring, from a kettle of boiling water. For more serious offences the accused immersed their arm up to the elbow, the wound was then bound and sealed with the judges signet. After three days the wound was examined, if the arm bore no signs of scalding, they were innocent, if not they were convicted.

By fire: The three-day praying and fasting was the same as the Ordeal by boiling water. A woman accused of adultery was forced to place her foot against a certain number of red-hot ploughshares. In other cases the accused was blindfolded and made to walk across the red-hot ploughshares. For other minor offenses the accused to walk nine feet carrying a red-hot lump of iron weighing a pound, for more serious offenses e.g. treason, murder, counterfeiting or robbery, the lump would weigh 3 pounds, like the more serious Ordeal by boiling water, the wound was bound the reopened after three days and judged by whether the wound was still there (guilty) or not (innocent).

Pulled apart This punishment was usually used for more severe crimes, including rape, murder, abduction, treason and other larger crimes. The accused had his four limbs tied to four horses and then the horses were made to run in four different directions, resulting in the person being pulled apart.

Quartered The convicted was cut into four pieces and buried in four different parts of the town. This meant that when Judgment Day came, they would not be able to rise whole, and therefore would be denied entrance to Paradise.